“Love is patient, love is kind.” – 1 Cor 13:4.
I think it was either Simone de Beauvoir or Betty Friedan who mentioned we live in a “sea of hostility.” Mainly it is the comment section of almost any post of photo or text where this can be evidenced. Since much of humanity spends a solid amount of time on social media these days, such negativity, judgment, criticism, canceling, and general snarky reactivity and pushing of opinion starts to leak into our veins. I was thinking about the human predicament the other day and what might be a central issue for many: the avoidance of pain.
We think we avoid suffering, discomfort when we project it on to another person. When we decide to play the game and live life for ourselves, acquiring more and more wealth, we forget there is a cost to the earth and often our near and far global neighbors. We try to avoid suffering when we demand our freedoms, trying to fashion a world according to our preference even as it means imposing our personal moralities onto others.
I was recently asked to be one of the “liberal” professors in a debate for a chapter of our campus’ Turning Point USA, an organization I actually didn’t know about until after the debate was over. The debate was enjoyable and composed as, despite the gathering of us under the auspices of political leaning, we were mindful academics trying to bring reason and an amicable nature to a debate with quite politically charged topics and questions.
The questions originated from the student group of Turning Point, and, although they eventually were revised to appear more neutral, well, I couldn’t help notice that they were rooted in deep pain and frustration (as well as a lack of general understanding of certain identities and the definition of terms, but that is not my current point). Of the original student-written questions were the following:
How do you justify the injustices that have occurred on college campuses and, now, high schools too? Students who hold differing opinions as opposed to the majority (Conservatives and Christians, to be frank) are being silenced and kicked off campuses. They are being labeled as spreading hate speech. Is this hate speech? What should we do about this?
Countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia persecute Christians severely (opendoorsusa.com). Much of this is due to Islamic oppression. Many say that Islam is a peaceful, loving religion. If that is the case, why are they hurting Christians? Why does the Quran clearly state that all Muslims must participate in jihad? It states that jihad involves the spreading of the Islamic state in a violent manner. What’s the difference between peaceful Muslims in the USA, who disobey the Quran, and the true Muslims performing jihad?
Many pro-choice advocates say that abortion protects a woman’s right to her choice. Why does that matter in abortion? There are many laws against choices: public indecency, trespassing, loitering, etc. My hand is part of my body; why can’t I use it to hit someone? How do you defend your position?
Should guns be restricted? Considering what has been going on in America and the world, the threat or thought of a threat of government taking our freedoms and rights away is increasing, most citizens are now trying to protect themselves against a possible attack. Should they be able to protect themselves?
Much can be said about all of these questions and their problematic assumptions and misinformed implications (i.e. the incorrect assumption that true Islam can not be a peaceful religion, that having an abortion is equal to mindless, unnecessary behaviors such as randomly striking another person or as marginal as loitering, that hate speech is really free speech, and that arming ourselves with weapons is the way to a protected, peaceful existence and so on – feel free to discuss in the comments). Yet, I also can’t help but notice the desperation and frustration throughout all of them. Those who are a part of Turning Point USA seem, for instance, to be in the minority when it comes to gun control and abortion. Sixty percent (60%) of Americans want stricter regulations and about 60% of Americans would like to see the verdict Roe vs. Wade stay as it is at least. I got the sense that those who wrote these questions feel that their freedoms and moralities are infringed up and ignored in the government and in the university that they deem more progressive.
The reason I agreed to participate in the debate was because I wanted to contribute an example of a more mindful way of discussing issues where there may be hurt and misunderstanding on various sides. I’ve had many conversations in and out of the classroom with people of different opinions than mine that were friendly, exciting, and pleasurable, so I don’t think it is impossible to be on seemingly extremely opposite sides of the spectrum and delight in the communal aspect of a sacred meeting and intellectual inquiry. I just don’t think it always goes in such a productive pleasant way.
Aside from this debate on campus (which I would have rather been focused on topics such as abject poverty and the continual refusal of the U.S. to sign the nuclear arms ban with ICAN), the conversation that seems to be contentious concerns those who want to open back up businesses vs. continue to quarantine and those who want to wear masks vs. those who don’t. Regardless of which side we fall on, can we begin to try to see the other varying sides and try to treat each other with kindness and patience, being mindful of our language and caring more about right relationship than being right (ala Carter Heyward)? I want to ask questions of those students crafting signs that claim “Socialism sucks!” I want us all to approach our desires with less violence and more education.
Lache S., graduated with her Ph.D. in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches college composition in Colorado Springs. Lache is also is trying out a new platform of exploring her background in comparative religions and women’s studies and love for poetry on a YouTube channel called Women and Spirituality. If you have any suggestions, let her know.